Hunger Scales: A Key Tool for Non-Dieters

Use the Hunger Scale to Become an Intuitive Eater

There is a lot of buzz in the media right now about dieting. The latest research supports what you probably already knew in your heart: for the majority of us, diets don’t work. If you’re one of the many dieters who has decided to give intuitive, mindful eating a try this year, I’d like to introduce you to an important tool: the Hunger Scale.

The Hunger Scale is one of the first tools I use help my clients become flexible, joyful, intuitive eaters. This part of our work on learning how to listen to and honor internal hunger cues (which diets tell us to ignore).

Hunger Scale From 1 to 10

Rate your hunger on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 is beyond ravenous and 10 is beyond overfull).

You can think about your hunger signs (e.g. stomach growling, difficulty concentrating, etc) as your body’s way of telling you that your energy reserves are getting low. I like to use an image of a gas gauge to illustrate.

Go ahead and give it a shot. Right now, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your level of satiety, or fullness?

How to Use the Hunger Scale

This scale is subjective. You would likely rate your “4” differently than I would, but here are some general descriptions that I find helpful to help get started:

  1. You are so hungry you feel light-headed and dizzy
  2. You need to eat, you feel irritable and cranky. You feel ravenous (the hanger is real)
  3. Your stomach is growling
  4. Continued hunger signals
  5. You feel just right – neither hungry or full
  6. You are comfortably full, little full
  7. You feel very full
  8. You feel uncomfortably full
  9. Your stomach is so full that it hurts a little
  10. You’ve eaten so much you feel stuffed beyond capacity, you feel like you could get sick

Hunger Scale Hungry Monster by

The author at a hunger level of 1. Art by donkeycoverup.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Hunger Cues

Keeping hunger levels from going critical is an important component of intuitive, mindful eating. For example, when you eat at a 1 or a 2, you’re more likely to get to a satiety level that crosses into feeling overfull (for example, a 7 or higher). On the other hand, when you eat at a 3 or a 4, you’re better equipped to be present and mindful during your meal, which means you will be find it easier to check in with your satiety sensations and may find it easier to stop eating when you get to a 5 or a 6.

Putting it into Action

Before you can honor your hunger, you need to learn how to hear it. The most reliable way I’ve found is to use a food journal. Ideally, this food journal will be a non-judgmental observation of your hunger scales. It can be as simple as jotting down your hunger levels and the food you eat throughout the day in a little paper journal.

Tracking the Hunger Scale with Apps

I don’t recommend using apps that count calories, but there are a few food journal apps that might be helpful. Healthie (iTunes, Google Play) is a very simple photo-based food journal app that we used to use in our practice. We now use Recovery Record (iTunes, Google Play), which allows us to customize the food log to meet each client’s individual needs. You can use either to keep track of your hunger levels, emotions, and other factors tied into your eating behaviors. They won’t tell you how many calories you’ve eaten in a day, but they will help you tune into those internal factors that influence what, how much, and when you eat.

Want to learn more? Book a free consult with a food-positive, body-positive dietitian nutritionist.

Learn how food-positive, body-positive nutrition counseling can give you the support you need to become an intuitive eater. Book a free phone call today – no strings attached!

About the Author

Brittany Markides, MS, RD, LD, CHC

Brittany Markides, MS, RD, LD, CHC

Founder, Choose Food

My name is Brittany Markides. I founded Choose Food because, in my work as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I saw so many trying to make positive health changes, but struggling to stay on restrictive diets. At Choose Food, I deliver food-positive, body-positive nutrition counseling to help people:

  • Regain power over your food choices to reduce overeating, binge eating, and emotional eating
  • Manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Find relief from anxious thoughts about food and your body
  • Rediscover your natural hunger and satiety cues
  • Alleviate IBS symptoms through nutrition therapy
  • Cultivate self-acceptance & self-compassion

Finding the right fit is paramount in creating change. That’s why I offer a free phone consultation to provide you with the opportunity to ask questions, learn about my services, and decide if you think I am the right dietitian for you and your situation. If I’m not the right fit for you, I will help you find the right person.